Yep, you would be forgiven for thinking that Apple had canned the Mac mini to the graveyard long ago, but can a performance and spec boost save the much loved, but also much forgotten about, computer from Apple? We plugged it in to find out.
Experiencing its biggest refresh since summer 2007, the Mac mini has changed little when it comes to looks. The device is still a small square box that sits neatly out of the way for no one to notice. A DVD slot drive sits at the front with a small light to let you know it's alive (yes, it breathes just like a MacBook). Its aluminium sides are capped with a white plastic top complete with emblazoned logo (not gaudy) and that's about it from a design perspective. It's minimal, full stop.
Around the back and you get a series of ports to feel like you are getting a computer rather than just a shiny silver box. There are five (yes five) USB 2.0 connections, a Mini DisplayPort or Mini-DVI connection for connecting a monitor, FireWire 800 socket and Ethernet hole. There is also a 3.5mm headphone and 3.5mm line-in jack so you can get giggy with it on the music front too.
Those USBs look pretty, but unless you are plugging in thin cables then you'll soon lose out on using all of them as they are incredibly close together. Yes it will be fine for a keyboard or camera cable, but if you are plugging in a fat dongle, be it 3G or a TV Tuner, forget about using all five. Still, this is all easily overcome with the addition of a USB hub.
Before you spin into a dizzy panic that your monitor only has VGA or DVI, included in the box for free (yes you heard that right) the unit comes with a Mini-DVI to DVI cable. There is no option to change this to VGA so if you have got one of those you'll have to invest in another cable to turn DVI into VGA or more likely Mini-DVI to VGA.
Inside and the Mac mini has had a massive boost in performance as you can imagine, after all it's been almost 2 years, and a lot has happened since then.
The cheaper model, at £499, offers a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 120GB hard drive, 1GB memory, Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics and an 8x double-layer SuperDrive. Wi-Fi and Built-in Bluetooth 2.1 are also present.
The higher end £649 option differs with a 320GB hard drive and 2GB memory as standard.
Both models can be upgraded to feature a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor for a further £120 and up to 4GB of memory for another £120.
The graphics card is a Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics processor with 128MB for the £499 version or 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with the main memory for the £649 option.
Designed for the switcher (i.e., those who are fed up with their PC so have all the accessories) you don't get a screen, keyboard or mouse in the box just like the previous model. You are just buying the computer unit and this gives you plenty of options for where you are going to put the Mac mini.
As this is a computer you could of course put it on your desk and use it to work. The speed and performance is okay, but this is no gaming or heavy photo-editing machine. You'll need something with a little more oomph for that.
We would recommend using the Mac mini combined with an Apple TV and possibly even an AirPort Base Station or Time Capsule to create a home media system for your TV.
Plug this into your TV and combined with Apple TV you can then use your TV as a perfect screen for surfing the Internet from your sofa or watching shows via the BBC iPlayer or Sky's Sky Player.
Further more, with up to 320GB of storage, it's considerably more space to store movies and music on than the Apple TV's 160GB storage option. You would then be able to use it as a dedicated machine to power your home network from. Tasty.
As a media centre the mini performs beautifully, is the same size as the Time Capsule but slightly smaller than the company's Apple TV, so the footprint works well and can be easily hidden.
As a basic desktop PC the Mac mini will suffice in most cases. It's like the netbook of the Apple desktop PC range - small and cheap.
For those who've already got a monitor, keyboard and mouse, this is the perfect way of switching to a Mac while still keeping the costs down, however if you are about to invest in the whole package then by the time you add a screen, and keyboard you might be better off opting for either an iMac or a MacBook, with the latter of course giving you portability.
With specs of the £649 option roughly the same as Apple's entry level MacBook (there is just £70 in it) you have question whether the extra £70 for a screen and keyboard isn't money better spent.
Personally we want one for under the TV. If only Apple had bundled in the Apple TV software - now that would have been a real winner, as it is you'll have to fork out the extra £179 for Apple TV on top.
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